U.S.A., 1989. A new video game created by the U.S.S.R. is released on the American public. Tetris is a puzzle game created by Alexey Pajitnov in which players are made to stack a random sequence of shapes with the aim of creating a horizontal line of ten blocks without any gaps. This causes the line to disappear and freeing space for more shapes to be stacked. Completion of these lines advances you to the next level where the shapes begin to fall quicker. You lose when you have reached the top of the playing field and no additional shapes are able to fall. It is this sort of fast paced game play that makes Ecstasy of Order: The Tetris Masters an interesting idea but leaves you slightly disappointed.
Adam Cornelius’s documentary follows Robin Mihara as he organizes a tournament to find the world champion of Tetris on the original NES system. Using a combination of interviews, found footage and screen shots from the game, Ecstasy of Order tells the story of Tetris’s rise in popularity during the late 80s and early 90s. Attempting to build off a rivalry from the 1990 Nintendo World Championship, Thor Aackerlund – the champ – is brought into the storyline to see if he can still play the way he did when he was fourteen. A new generation of players like Harry Hong and Jonas Neubauer have proven themselves to be formidable players with quick minds and even faster thumbs. It is anybody’s game and no matter who wins at least people are talking about Tetris again, if only for a little while.
It is quite remarkable the Tetris effect is a real, documented phenomenon acknowledged by medical professionals. For those unfamiliar, the Tetris effect occurs after a long period of time and attention have been devoted to an activity that it begins to overshadow their thoughts, mental images and dreams. Specific to Tetris is the visualizing of shapes or stacking and compartmentalising capabilities of everyday objects or buildings. Unfortunately everyone’s experience is unique to the individual and the players who recognise experiencing the effect don’t have much else to say. Seems like the occasional hallucination in day-to-day life would merit a little more description.
The real disappointment of this film comes from its desire to be like King of Kong, a 2007 documentary about Steve Wiebe and Billy Mitchel going head to head for the top spot in the original Donkey Kong. Wiebe is the underdog up against long-time champ Mitchel. The success of this film comes from it’s building of the rivalry between Wiebe and Mitchel. In Ecstasy of Order it’s obvioius Thor is supposed to be a Mitchel-character and the new stars are Wiebe. But no character is really developed or made interesting enough to root for their success. Thor is actually the most interesting given his upbringing as NES chamption and succession of family problems. He is far from the villain character Mitchel portrayed.
Seeing King of Kong will have a huge effect on how this film will be received. As it stands it’s a film worthy of viewing but you’ll end up just walking away wondering what happened to your old consol. The focus on 9 characters is just too many for this kind of film. There isn’t enough time to develop their story. That being said, hearing these different people talk with each other is a riot. Celebrating milestones with a nice bottle of Johnny Walker, discussing the effects skull surgery has on one’s game, and the beautiful language of “death defying vertical long-bar slide,” and “finger-tapping god” this film does have kind words for a rather depressing game. Ecstasy of Order is ultimately just like Tetris, no matter how high your score is the game still ends with you losing.
Film Reviewer – David Rowley (@thedavidrowley)
Director – Adam Cornelius
Cast – Thor Aackerlund, Harry Hong, Ben Mullen, Robin Mihara, Jesse Kelker, Jonas Neubauer